Category Archives: Spinal Cord Injury

Driving Again After Spinal Cord Injury

Adapted Ford Ranger IMG_5919

When it came to driving, the only thing I saw myself operating was a power wheelchair and I wasn’t even good at that.  This is how I saw it: Pedals are operated with feet, steering wheel turned with fingers gripped, and backing up meant twisting around to see what’s behind you.  No way I could drive a car when I couldn’t walk or even hold my balance…

Then, I saw a C-6 quad jump into his red hot convertible Mitsubishi Spyder, take his chair apart, and drive away.  “Cool!!!” I said and added “When can I do that?” to my list of favorite phrases.

Today, 12 years later, I drive a candy blue Ford Ranger. I love how I got to pick out the vehicle I wanted and get it adapted so that it could become an extension of me.  I wasn’t ready for the convertible, given that my transfers were still pretty amateur but, with the help of an adaptive driving specialist, I “adapted” my thinking and chose a truck and added the bells and whistles to get me on the road again.

Driving is possible.  In thinking about the whole process I put together some steps, with some input from others, as a guide to helping someone get back behind the wheel.  It takes time and doesn’t happen over night but following these steps should help get you where you want to go.

1.   Let the dust settle.

So many times in the first couple years, I begged God to let me feel the sand between my toes and to let me experience just one more time the feeling of running until I lost my breath.  I was so restless after I got out of the hospital that every challenge frustrated me.  Any opportunity to get back my former life I pursued with haphazard passion. And so did loved ones around me.  We all wanted to be back to normal.  We didn’t know what the steps were; we just saw where we wanted to be and like a bull to a cape, ran for the normalcy we yearned for.  We hit walls, made mistakes, fought, broke down, and cried may times. But that is what rehabilitation is for. It’s a byproduct of growth and while you are going through the hell of it all, the best thing to do is to avoid being impulsive. (Which is very hard to do!)  Please take my advice, DO NOT BUY A CAR RIGHT NOW.  Not until the dust has settled and you have thought it through and followed these steps.  I speak from experience and you will thank me, I promise!

2.   Dream.

But don’t let that restless energy go to waste either.  Dream.  Dream about where you want to be.  Brainstorm ideas about how to get there and write them down in a journal to track your progress.  Use this time to learn about your abilities and work toward maximizing your mobility.  Don’t worry that you need help or use the bus or other modes of transportation because you’ve got your plan and are working towards it.

Choosing your own vehicle is like choosing your own pair of shoes.  Think about the vehicle that fits you, that works for you, one that you like and, yes, one you can afford.  It’s a taller order than choosing between Nike and Converse but it is do-able.  Fortunately, every year more adaptations are being developed for accessible vehicles so there are lots of choices.  Even if you drive a power wheelchair, there are many options for you.

Glide n Go seat3.   Learn.

What are others driving? How did they do it?  You can learn a lot from others and can gain a lot of support and inspiration from just talking.  What knowledge do other wheelchair users have about the process of driving again?  What equipment do they use and how did they pay for it?  Talk to as many people as you can. Granted, being in a larger city helps because there’s likely more wheelchair users around but you can also connect with people online.  You can also send me your questions and I’ll give you my take 🙂

4.    Seek out an adapted driving evaluator

NMEDA (National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association) requires that any actual driving equipment purchase through a member dealer be approved by a driving evaluator.  This means that you have to meet with an adapted driving instructor/evaluator and demonstrate your ability to operate hand controls or any other driving equipment safely.  The purpose is to ensure the safety of you, your passengers, and others on the road and to reduce liability for the dealer.

5.    Figure out how to pay for it

If you look solely at the numbers, adapted driving is a bit expensive.  Vocational RehabilitationVeteran’s benefits, worker’s compensation, and adapted equipment rebates from most vehicle brands help cut down the cost considerably.  There are also lending companies that help with loans for adapted equipment.  Check out what is available in your area.

Bruno lift6.    Buy your car and get it modified

Enough said but be careful and don’t buy a used car over 65K miles if you expect to have the mods paid for by one or more of the above resources.  I went through 2 vehicles before I was given the proper information about this, costing my family around $10K total.  I made some mistakes early on, which is why I am writing this.

Anyway, when you’re ready, go get your vehicle!  You will have to buy your vehicle because in most cases, only modifications will be covered.

7.    Driver’s training and driver’s license

For me, driver’s training was very helpful because I was a new driver when I had my car accident so I was essentially starting over.  States have different laws when it comes to adapted driving.  Most require some sort of verification that you are able to operate a vehicle safely (either doctor’s signature on a form or a note from the driving evaluator) and yes, they require proof that you have a disability.  Check out your State’s requirements by going to their motor vehicle department’s website or by calling them directly.  Ask what requirements are there for in individual with a disability seeking a license.  Take the test, get your license and get ready to have fun!

8.    Enjoy your new found freedom!

Have fun!  You’ve earned it.  Now that you can drive, so many doors will open up to you.  Hopefully, through the process you’ve learned that there are still so many things you can do and that your opportunities for “normalcy” are well within your grasp.

One last thing, take care of your vehicle.  There are many factors that affect the lifetime of adapted vehicles- frequency and intensity of use, maintenance, heavy passengers or passengers using power wheelchairs- but you can maximize the life of your vehicle by following manufacturers  recommendations for tuneups and repairs and by paying attention to warranties.  In all, you’ll get the most out of your equipment with the better care you take of it.


National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association,

With input from Shannon King, RN, AdvisaCare and Brent from Handicap Vehicle Specialists in Arizona

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Therapeutic Riding Program Gets Cowboy Back In The Saddle

Brad was born in the one-stoplight town of Milington, Michigan.  As a young man, he moved with his family to the Southwest where cattle was big business and where he learned to rope and ride.  He was a cowboy; a rough riding rodeo type who “was always up to something.”  On the Papago Reservation in Arizona, he worked the ranches with his father, training horses and rounding up cattle for the Pacific Livestock Auction.  He was a wrestler in high school and a boxer in the Army.  Slowing down was not in his vocabulary so when he moved back to Michigan, he got a job in construction and continued to ride as a hobby.

On Veteran’s Day three years ago, Brad was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest, down.  Unable to walk and with limited use of his hands, he left his job as project manager in a heating and cooling company and went looking for a place to live that was wheelchair accessible.  He moved to Evergreen Grove in Otter Lake. There he could live independently in a setting that was far from a nursing home, yet get the help he needed.

Brad wanted more than independence, though; he wanted his life back.  He did not want those important parts of his identity to be lost. He missed the outdoors, he missed boxing, and most importantly, he missed horses.  An online search revealed a number of programs out there for individuals with physical challenges.  O.A.T.S., Offering Alternative Therapy with Smiles, was a therapeutic horseback-riding program based in Clarkston, not too far away.  He signed up and within weeks his feet were back in the stirrups.

Brad on a horse

In 3 sessions, he was walking a horse in a round pen with volunteers and specialists.  “It took a couple tries for me to find my balance,” says Brad.  “I used a standard western saddle with no back and just a saddle horn so I had to learn different ways to keep upright.”  He found that Velcro straps around his wrists help him pull himself back into position, when the gait of the horse shifted him to the side.  This allowed him to ride 15-20 yards at a time with no assistance.

On the fifth session, his caregiver, Patty Gring of AdvisaCare got to come along. “I was beyond excited I cried. It was so amazing for me to see one of our clients up on a horse after all he has been through and see him work towards his dream. Just brings me so much joy.”

His success in the program opened up other doors for Brad.  Just recently, he acquired a heavy bag and has begun his journey back into boxing.  “Any plans for a career from here?” I asked.  “Yeah, but not in construction.” He plans to train his own horse and to open an adapted gym so that others with disabilities can learn to box.  “It’s great core exercise,” he says. “At first, I couldn’t hit a flea but not I have a pretty good swing!”

Brad is also in the process of writing a book about his life. With a pilot and fire bomber for a father and a childhood working with the Papago Indians in Arizona, as well as his adventures in the Army, his life has taken many interesting paths.  For Brad, each new element becomes just another chapter. He is a proud father and a driven cowboy, hanging his hat on great hopes for the future.

To learn more about O.A.T.S. or any of the other programs mentioned in this article, please visit the links below.

What if you could walk again?

by Ashleigh Justice

What do you say to a person who has just lost everything? Do you tell them that they’ll get used to it? Do you lie and say it will be just as it was before? Will they even listen?

The possibility of walking again was something I painfully accepted would never come. I would never march in the marching band, I would never walk on the beach, I would never dance at prom and would always be stared at for being different. It’s a pain that I choked down several years ago, when surviving meant moving on and trying to live for the day. “I could have died that day (after the car accident) but I didn’t so I am not going to lose my life while I am still living.” That thought became my daily motivator.

In the first couple years after the car accident, I was ashamed of myself and of the disability I couldn’t walk away from. It’s a drowning sorrow, like being held down in a rushing river. To escape it, I gave up everything related to it. I ran from reality and sought to defy everything that reminded me of my spinal cord injury. I took on sports, dated indiscriminately, went wild on occasion. But I mentored others and in that way, I did a service to my heart because I was able to show, more to my self than the person who was in my once broken state, that I was able to get back some sort of life. Even if it meant that I would have to recreate it.

So now, what do you say to someone who has moved on? Someone whose sorrow has lifted and who no longer sees the ghosts of the past? Walking again was something that I packed away with all of the other things that hurt me deeply. I thought I had handled all of those stages of grief that Keubler-Ross described until there grew a whisper- Someone was working, really working, to cure spinal cord injuries. I met that someone, Dr. Wise Young, a couple years ago when he came to Arizona for the Working2Walk conference. I didn’t really think the conference would be all that promising because for years people have been beating the rallying drum of curing paralysis. But something happened that I didn’t expect. I cried.

I cried because of the genuine love for his patients I felt from Dr. Young as he described what research they were doing and why they believe it will at least have a positive impact, if not, be the cure. But they were still a ways off so, again, I put it back into that dark corner of my mind but with a nightlight this time- maybe there was a possibility…

Although I haven’t heard of any groundbreaking cures just yet, here is an article a friend posted on my Facebook wall a couple days ago. It brought back those feelings of disbelief and skepticism but also that warm comfort of hope. Dr. Young is still at it! If there is one person I believe could cure spinal cord injuries, it’s him.

“So, what would you do if you could get back just one day of walking.” My husband once asked me.

I would take the entire day and dance with my son. I would hike with my husband and go drive a Ferrari. I would run with my dog, chase a butterfly, maybe even find some old high school buddies and make a throw together parade, me holding that damn pair of cymbals. If I could walk again, I would live like the next day wouldn’t come. Because, at one time, it almost didn’t.

My question to readers is, What would you do if you could walk again? I know it can be seen as an insensitive question but for me, answering it gave me such feelings of joy. It’s like dreaming of that amazing mansion we would like to own, as we go to work every day. It may be a fantasy, it may be a reality. But what would you do if you could walk again?

Artist Profile: Robert Andy Coombs

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Robert is not able to pick up a camera. He is not able to arrange sets, lighting, or click the shutter, however, the images he captures are astouding. With the help of friends, family, and a staff of caregivers, there aren’t many things that Robert Andy Coombs can’t do. In fact, his biggest challenge is finding time to do it all! He is a college student, an artist, goes out with friends, spends time with family, and still manages to capture amazing images and express himself through photography.

Robert is a student at Kendall College of Art & Design, working toward a degree in Fine Arts & Photography. An athlete and scholar, Robert’s life took a drastic turn 3 years ago when the 21 year-old gymnast landed on his head during a double backflip on the trampoline. He broke his neck at the C4/5 level and would spend the next 6 weeks in rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Ventilator dependent and unable to move anything from chest down, he would have to learn how to do things a bit differently. “When I was newly injured,” he told The QuadFiles, “I couldn’t move anything for 9 months. It was tough because I was not able to do many of the things I used to.” In high school he was a swimmer and had always been a very active person. “I really miss it (swimming),” he admits. “But now I channel my thoughts and feelings through art and photography.”

Robert is a patient with AdvisaCare who overcomes paralysis through the help of family, friends, caregivers and a positive attitude!

Photo courtesy of Robert Andy Coombs

Robert uses a digital camera tethered to a computer and a software program called Phase One, Capture One to take and edit photographs. “I had to figure out the right tools and technology for me. My rehab technician helped me find the equipment that would work best.” Robert uses Dragon Dictate to write papers and work on the computer and an iPhone 4S to text his friends. To get around, he uses a power wheelchair with a Jouse sip-and-puff joystick.

Robert has one more year to go before he finishes his degree. From there he is looking to either get a job in fashion photography or go on to grad school. “Eventually, I would like to be an art designer and creative director for fashion photography; designing the set, location, and lighting of shots professionally while still doing my own stuff on the side.” Robert has begun to build a following using Flickr and Facebook.

Like what you do!

Do what you like, like what you do!

That is pretty much the coolest Facebook photo album title.  The owner?  Maegan Clark, a quad who has proven to herself and others that she is a force to be reckoned with.

Maegan Clark

20 yrs old,  3 years PI (post injury)

Maegan was a spunky 17 year old when a diving accident changed the way she would look at life forever.  I met Maegan when she was still in the hospital, about 3 weeks after her diving accident.  A positive, free-spirited teenager, she had had her life turned upside-down because of paralysis.  I’ve watched her blossom into a role-model for other spinal cord injuries through her go-getter attitude.  Not surprising, her motto is “Carpe Diem!”  Her lack of inhibition continues to inspire.

Recently, Maegan and I spoke about what motivates her and what some of her challenges and triumphs have been throughout these past 3 years.  Her profile and the great answers to the questions I had for her are below.  Mother, Keela. Father, Mike. Sister, Katie. From Gilbert, AZ, attending ASU & studying for a degree in environmental sciences.

Who inspires you?

Corbin Beu. He is one of the coolest people I know.  He does everything, including make his own equipment and traveling worldwide playing sports.  He’s an all around bada**!

Sonya Perduta-Fulginiti- She got her nursing degree AFTER her injury 30-something years ago.

What motivates you?

Helping others and succeeding

What does it take to succeed as a quad?

A lot of patience and innovation with everything! Dressing, driving, everything. Find what works best for you.  We didn’t have to think about it before (when we were able-bodied) but now we do.

Practice- you don’t want to but just do it!  Things aren’t difficult because you’re a quad; some people just don’t know what they can do.

Maegan does have more hand function than a higher level injury -but- I’ve seen a quadruple amputee drive, have known at least three artists who paint with mouth wands and a handful of professionals who don’t have any use of their arms or hands. 

Basically, no excuses.  You can do it- “Mind over matter, all the way.”

How have you changed from before your injury?

I realized I didn’t understand the meaning of living life to the fullest because I never experienced it before my whole world changed.  You really learn to appreciate what you have but it’s hard tell someone this who hasn’t had it happen to them. The things I thought were important before are not so important.  I feel less held back now, more Carpe Diem, seize the day!

How have you evolved since your injury?

When I was a new injury a bunch of people (in wheelchairs) came to see me and I saw how people could still be normal.  Don’t get me wrong, I had some tough days.  When I came home from the hospital, I cried for 3 days straight but then on the 3rd day I took a look at my situation and and decided to move on.  Now, 3 years later, I am not worried as much because I can take care of myself.  I want to help others, like those who have helped me.  I know what it takes to succeed and want to pass it on.

What are some unexpected challenges?

My challenges were less about self-pity and more about outside things like dealing with insurance companies and lawyers. I didn’t expect it to be so hard (to be paralyzed) even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  I didn’t expect to have the abilities of a 2 year-old for a while; not being able to do simple things like open a water bottle or dress myself.  But then things started progressing and it got better.

What are some unexpected benefits?

I am happier now than I have ever been.  Being paralyzed is the best thing that has ever happened to me because I’ve been able to go scuba diving and be on TV for going off-roading (with Disabled Explorers).

What have you done since your injury?

I attend college for environmental sciences via Voc Rehab, drive a modified Honda Element, and mentor other new injuries. Recently, I gave a speech at a my old high school, got into rowing and scuba diving, played some quad rugby, and participated in this team-building project for class where we made a prosthetic hand for someone in another country.  I love being able to contribute to someone else’s wellbeing.  That hand changed someones life and I discovered that helping others inspires me.

What are some barriers you have run into and did they stop you?

If I had any mental barriers, they didn’t stop me.  I started getting involved in all the programs and things that were available.  Corbin does everything and travels the world and that has motivated me to take all opportunities that cross my path.  Basically anything that was available to me as a person in a wheelchair I did.

 What are your goals for the future?

Get my degree and go into renewable energy.  It is a very accessible field, even if you may not necessarily be able to go to a site with tough terrain.  I also want to go to the Paralympics for swimming and to continue to contribute to my community.

All in all…

They are no excuses for not pursuing what you want just because you’re in a chair.  Anything is attainable.  When there’s a will, there’s a way. If you want it bad enough, you’ll do it!

Check out my story on Hometown Heroes! Thank you UroMed, LASCI, and John E Phillips for the opportunity to share it 🙂 You guys rock!!

UroMed Catheter Health Blog

Editor’s Note: As a 15-year-old new driver, Ashleigh Justice of Phoenix, Arizona, was driving her family vehicle when tragedy struck and changed her life forever. Part 1 of a 5 part series.

Justice: I remember as a new driver, driving back with my family from a vacation in Texas. We thought my driving was relatively safe on the open highway, because there were very few cars on the road from Texas to Phoenix. On the open road, there was a semi tractor trailer that I needed to pass. As I started around him, he moved over into my lane. To complicate matters even more, there was a crosswind blowing across the highway. I tried to avoid him, and when I attempted to get back in my lane, I lost control of the car. The car went off the road as I tried to steer back, and…

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AzSCIA = Empowerment

I wanted to take a moment to give a shout out to an organization very near and dear to my heart; the Arizona Spinal Cord Injury Association. 

When I was first injured my family became involved almost immediately.  My mom sought out resources and brought in a peer mentor from AzSCIA so that I could ask questions and relate to someone.  At the time I was apprehensive about it, but once we started talking and sharing it was a pivotal moment in my life.  I needed someone who understood what I was going through and someone I didn’t need to be brave for.

Soon my parents signed up for family mentorship to help them navigate my new disability status and they found it hugely helpful.  Later that year I began the Empowerment series which not only taught me about spinal cord injuries but introduced me to a group of individuals who served as not only mentors but became friends.  I found real community and their guidance made that first year bearable.  Eventually my mother joined the Board of the Association and several years later I worked there as the Community Resource Specialist.

Moving Forward and Looking Back

Now that I have moved on I can’t help but look back fondly and wonder if my life would have been different had we not sought out the Association.  I would like to think I would still be where I am today, but they sure did make it easier.  So I just wanted to let you guys know about a few of their programs:

  • The Empowerment Class- a twelve week course with dinner and transportation provided, each class is a different topic related to paralysis.
  • Peer Mentoring Program- No matter how far you are past your injury you can always request a peer mentor who can help counsel you through life changes, visit you when you’re sick or just serve as a sounding board.
  • Social and Recreational Activities- Each month there are one or two fun events inspired just to get people out of the house and active.  This also includes getting involved in sports like rugby, fencing, basketball, tennis, power soccer etc.
  • Educational Classes- Check the calendar, there are two educational classes each month and transportation is provided
  • Transportation- low cost accessible transportation 365 days a year
  • Lending Closet- Books, wheelchairs, standing frames whatever you need the association probably has it check their first
  • Information and Referral- Have a question or need a doctor? Call and get up to date information
  • Chair Skill Classes- Twice a year they host a series of four classes that focus on wheelchair maintenance to navigating sidewalks, a great refresher course for rehab.

If you want to check them out go to or call 602-507-4209.  The biggest thing I’ve learned since my injury is that you can’t get answers if you don’t ask questions so contact your local Spinal Cord Injury Association today!